Science… WUUUUUUHHAAAAAAAAAAHHHT?

This week’s readings were very telling on the state of science journalism… on Earth. And can be summarized in one word: Dyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyiiiiiiiiiiiingggggggggggggggg~~!!

I am not surprised. Speaking from experience, most of my peers in Highschool was deathly afraid of science. And here in the Philippines, especially in the College of Mass Communication Journalism Department, most if not all of the students would go: “noseblood, NoSeBleeD, NOSEBLEHHHD! N053d34d! (nosedead)  KhkhkhkKHk… *dead*” at the sound of any Math or Science subject. I wouldn’t blame them. It’s the education system’s fault. Rather than focusing on “understanding”, it just force-feeds facts into the small kamotes of the poor 12 – 17 year olds thus traumatizing them. They call that education, but the information becomes psychological blocked once exams are over. No, that is not quite right.

The articles this week, Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media, Scientific [Mis]Communication, Science journalism: Supplanting the old media? talks about the many symptoms and diseases that plague and herald the demise of science journalism. It’s savior? Science Blogging? Maybe, if only they checked their sources. But, how are they to do so? Anyone can blog. Anyone can Wikipedia or Google information if that’s what they are after, but without journalistic ethics of checking your sources (which is not very easy in the Internet) and getting other sources to corroborate or debunk or shed more light on the subject, science blogging FAILS.

Media fails as well. For one, they are very selective and will only pick “newsworthy” (or in other words, something that can make them money) subjects to report on, but the fact is a research’s significance may not reveal itself until it is known by more people. Media fails because it repackages the “science” they do report on to cater to lower spectra of the IQ scale. Me thinks if only media knew how to do it properly, then a lot more “philanthropists” or even businessmen would have donated to fund researches they happen to see on TV. As Dr. Galapon said, “Science is the future!” And who knows how to invest best, than those who’ve already invested very well.

Scientists themselves could write about their research (if they had the time, and the funding), but maybe they should learn a thing or two about writing before doing so. The articles How to Write a Good Story in 800 Words or Less and How Humor Can Make Your Writing More Powerful should be one of their first reads. Yes, it’s important to be comprehensive, but it is also equally important to be concise and also to be entertaining when writing to an audience less intellectually gifted than yourself.

If you ask me what I thought the hope of science journalism really is, I can’t really tell you a straight answer. But I’m sure that changing the views of those who are still young and (*wink*) malleable (*evil laugh*) is one of them. If the Children are the Future, and Science is too? Then aren’t they supposed to go hand in hand?

Science for the Future

A room full of papers, plastics, computers, scribbled notes and a large whiteboard full of equations was everything I expected to see in an office of a scientist and I was not disappointed.

In Room 304 of the National Physics Institute (NPI) I met with this year’s National Academy of Science and Technology Most Astounding Young Scientist awardee, Dr. Eric A. Galapon and the Coordinator of the Theoretical Physics Group in the institute to talk about himself, his research, and the science and research scene in the country.

At only 38 years of age and taking from how busy his workspace looked like, I started the interview by asking Dr. Galapon why he chose to be a scientist. At first there was an awkward silence, but judging by his face, I knew this scientist was really thinking hard on how to answer. “Why science,” he said contemplatively, “I guess it’s because I enjoy it.” “I think scientists and treasure hunters are similar. We’re both looking for treasure, but the only difference is our treasure is knowledge. It’s really the excitement of being the first one to discover something that the other seven billion people in the world were oblivious to that rewards us scientists.”

Surprisingly, Dr. Galapon wasn’t always the passionate scientist he is today. The only reason he took Physics when he was an undergraduate was because there was a scholarship being offered and that his family couldn’t afford sending him to college otherwise. During that time, he discovered he had a knack for science and that eventually lead him to discover his first, real love: Quantum Mechanics.

Quantum Mechanics is a theory in Physics to explain why it seemed that Classical Mechanics, or more commonly known as Newton’s Second Law of Motion, does not apply in the atomic level—the building blocks of all matter. “As is, the tenets Classical Mechanics break down in the atomic and sub-atomic level, so a new theory had to be proposed to explain such phenomenon, and that’s how Quantum Mechanics came about,” Dr. Galapon said.

According to Dr. Galapon, life as scientist isn’t easy. “Being a scientist requires a lot of devotion. You must be willing to put effort and yes, a lot of time in order to yield even the smallest results. At least for me, even though I have a full-time job here in the University of the Philippines as a lecturer and a researcher,” after heaving a sigh he said, “I still find myself constantly thinking of my research.” “When I’m lecturing or eating or whether I’m in my office or at home, even when I’m talking to my wife, I’m always thinking,” he said chuckling.

Not only is being a scientist mentally taxing, it is also very frustrating at times. Dr. Galapon recounted his first experience trying to get his work published outside of the country as being awful. He explained that he felt he was rejected not only because he was an unknown scientist, but also because he was a scientist in a third-world country. “You really have to persevere and not be modest when it comes to trying to publish your work abroad,” he said very fittingly as his first internationally published work was featured in one of the most prestigious science journals in the world, the Royal Society of London, after many rejections from other publications.

Another problem with scientific research here in the Philippines is described by Dr. Galapon as the “non-existence of a scientific-culture”. He blames the government and also society for the lack of interest in the sciences. “Here in the Philippines, people seem to think that science is all about inventing new stove or type of car, those sorts of inventions, which are really already the end results or the products of “real scientific research”.

“Even politicians think this way,” he said becoming more serious. “In general, the scientific community fears that the great progress made by the former Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology, Dr. Estrala Alabastro, who herself is a scientist from the University of Santo Tomas, would be reversed by the appointment of a person who doesn’t even have any background in the sciences and is a career executive,” he added. “If we look at all the rich countries in the world, their wealth is at least directly proportional to the amount of money they devote to research,” Dr. Galapon said explaining how with more research comes more breakthroughs and these breakthrough are not only useful but also very profitable.

Dr. Galapon ended by saying that only time would tell how the Philippines will in the future, but he quickly added that when society and the powers that be change their attitudes towards science, the hope of our nation would shine all the brighter. “I have great faith that if and when that happens, we’ve got more than enough talent here to storm the globe,” he said with a smile.

The Storms in Life

We all have our storms.

Many of us would rather avoid weathering a storm because it’s difficult to do so. But is doing it “safe” really for the better?

I read a funny article today which said that some government officials pray for typhoons, as their called in the Asia-Pacific region, in order for the “non-existent water shortage” to be solved. Confused? I was too. Basically, they’re saying that we have a problem, but they’re also saying we don’t. Still confused? Yeah, me too.

In any case, weather storms are unavoidable, especially in a country right smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. In fact, weather storms are caused by natural phenomenon, from the movement of moisture and of the winds and also the pressure systems on both land and sea. They are foreseeable but and are in no way controllable. These facts lie in stark contrast to the storms of life which often come out of the blue that you don’t see them coming. The causes of life storms come from different places, like our choices, society, family, friends, lovers, exams, school, the weather, and of course from God.

But what links them both is that, even though there might be damage in their wake, in the end they’d have given us something in return. Water and character. Both of which are essential to life.

So, how have you been faring?

Have you been running from what you need?

Everyone needs a good storm or two, once in a while–just to keep things interesting =)

What Reading is to Science Journalism

After reading the Michael Silverblatt Interview, Excerpts from Zinnser’s on Writing Well, A Farewell to Scienceblogs: the Changing Science Blogging Ecosystem, How to Tell Kooky Nuts in the Addiction Field, I can definitely say reading is not only important, it is essential to science journalism.

We can see this fact in the Michael Silverblatt Interview, where Silverblatt expresses his views on the importance of reading the actual work of the author he’s about to interview in order to really be able to get “real responses” from them. I think this is even more important to science journalists as they’re interviewing scientists who KNOW their work inside and out and as the subject is “science”, a certain degree of knowledge is required in order to correctly approach.

Reading is also important as one should not only know of the subject matter, but of many others that may overlap or interact with one another. A scientific subject may have effects on other fields of science, humanities, and maybe even the arts therefore it would be only prudent to know of such connections.

Also, as was recounted by the former scienceblogs.com blogger, it is only prudent to cite other sources when referring to anything that has to do with science. In doing so, the journalist allows his/her readers or editors to refer to his/her sources for themselves thus allowing accountability. At the same time, it also builds his/her credibility and renown for being an honest and thorough writer among his peers and audience.

Reading is also important in order for one to know what stories are worth looking into. How would one find news worthy materials when one does not look for it? There are numerous science journals that are published both online and in print therefore there should be no excuse why one should not read.

It is my opinion that without reading, one cannot improve upon himself as a writer. If one does not even have the proficiency to write well, how much more can one dissect the jargon-filled published research materials who’s intended audience are those in the know. The answer is, you cannot.

I want to get Fat

I want to get fat.

Well, not fat-fat. Fatter would be a better word. Nevertheless, it sounded better that way so I used that instead.

Moving on, for most of the world, getting fat isn’t the problem; it’s losing it. But for people like me, who have very quick metabolisms and are relatively active, it’s very hard to gain weight.

Today, during PE lesson, I was told that my body-fat percentage is at 12.6%. If Wikipedia is correct, that would land me in the lower percentile of those who are regarded as “athletic”. I wouldn’t disagree with that assessment.

But as I look at my “nekid budy” (pronounced: Naked Body, and for the record, I can’t believe I’m writing this), I look SO THIN!

How is it that I cannot gain weight at all? I have been asking this question for years now. Even if I just laze around, just being a couch (*edit*cough*edit*) potato and eating constantly, I still don’t gain any weight. What’s more, I seem to lose weight once I start becoming active again! Because of this, not just once did I find myself thinking “I’m a thin… thin… freak…”

You may be thinking “what’s the ____ is wrong about that,” but I assure you, it’s something messed-up.

I’m a guy, and I’m thin. Get it?

😦

How the hell do I bulk up when I can’t even gain weight?

The only time I’ve gained weight to the point that people started calling me “fat” was the long months of “revision” for the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examinations (HKCEEs) in which I spent all my time just sitting in the house, pretending to study, but really just being a lazy-fat-ass.

Do I need to become a lazy-fat-ass again just to gain weight? Not that I can afford to be one, living alone and having to do everything for myself. Not to mention the many places I need to go and people I need to talk to due to the many requirements that’s required of me to do on a weekly basis

>_>

Hai hai… so I end by reiterating what I said: I want to get fat!

Because right now, in my freakish body that does not want to gain weight, better FAT than THIN!

Realities, Genes, Mojo and Finches?

It seems that every week, the volume of what we need to read decreases. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, but just  stating an observation.

This post is in response to the four (4) articles assigned to us this week:

Realities in RP Science, Human Genetic Variation–Science’s breakthrough of the Year, From Museum Basement, a ‘New’ Dinosaur, and For Male Finches, Range Comes With Muscle.

The first article was the most interesting one for me as I am quite the nationalist and I agree with assessments of the author and would have used the same points of argument if I had made the article. The only problem was the abysmal layout. It seems that the writer doesn’t have a good relationship with paragraphs, as he had some of the hugest blocks of words I’ve seen in an article. What made it worst was that I first read the article through my iPhone and clumped up words in a small screen does not work at all!

The article about the human genome was very interesting as I am a keen observer on anything about genetics as I view it as the future of medical science. It would also be great if the “induced pluripotent stem” cells mentioned in article can really replace the embryonic stem cells required for regenerative-medicine. It would plug a lot of moral holes and at the same time greatly benefit the whole human race.

The article about the dinosaur named “Mojoceratops” was very dull. It tried at humor, but failed. Miserably. Although I found the reasoning for the discovery a bit interesting, it lacked “spice”.

The finches article was short. Too short. I read it all in under two minutes. The story was interesting, so it was disappointing for it to end so abruptly. I think a lot of Filipinos would have liked to read more information, as we are a musically-inclined people, and most of us sing–for better or worse.

Journey into the Wilderness

The first night was bad, the next was worse, the third was enlightening and the last was awesone. The four days I spent without electricity went exactly like that.

It was a crazy idea. I didn’t know if I could make it. I knew it would be painful and difficult—almost impossible—but I had no choice. I had to do it.

The first day was bad.

I woke up in a hazy sweat. Without electricity, I was not able to use the air-cooler or the electric fan, and it so happened that that night was hot. I was forced to go to sleep in my boxer-shorts as wearing more than my skivvies made the heat unbearable.

It was still hot.

Somehow, I managed to fall asleep, but after some time I began hearing a peculiar noise. It was something I don’t often hear, but I knew what it was—what they were: mosquitoes. I quickly rolled out of bed and in the darkness tried to locate the mosquito repellent. “Begone by Baygon,” would have been a pun I would have normally concocted for such an occasion, but I wasn’t in the mood. I was itchy, scratchy, sweaty, dirty and a little bit ticked off. I put the lotion on and sniffled at its smell. I don’t like it, but I need it was what I was thinking.

At 6 a.m. I woke up, there was a silhouette of my body on the bed from my sweat. I felt I didn’t sleep at all. I took a cold shower and brushed my teeth. No breakfast since I couldn’t use the microwave. I took the stairs down. I live on the 9th floor.

School went and gone and I was back at the condominium. I took the stairs up. I live on the 9th floor. It was getting dark.

No electricity, meant no light. I had to use candles. The apartment looked oddly nice in their flickering, golden-yellow light. I began to understand why candles are said to be romantic, they make everything look sublime.

It was time to eat and so I cooked. That first night, the problem wasn’t cooking the viand, it was cooking the rice. It has been more than a decade and half since I’ve used anything else besides a rice cooker. I had to think back and visualize how I did it before. Surprisingly, I succeeded with a modest amount of “tutong” as a bonus. I felt like I just won something.

That night went similar to the first, but I was getting used to it. Something different was that I attempted to use “katol”. I really went old-school. I can’t remember the time when I last used one of these. At first I had trouble separating the two coils coiled together in a ying-yang fashion. I used two.

When I woke up, it was not from the sound of my alarm clock. Something was burning. It was the papers littered across my room. It is a good thing I am very sensitive to smoke, or something worst might have happened. I quickly doused the heaping pile and went back to bed.

That morning I found my room was a disaster. What was worse was that all my pants and other clothing I hung at the back of my door smelled really awful—like katol. “Great,” I muttered. “I’ll need to wash these,” I said in complete knowledge that this feat would require the manual, archaic, “kus-kos” kind of laundry. I was not amused.

Again, school was uneventful. But I knew that when I got back home, only darkness and suffering awaited me (not to mention the arduous journey up) and by then, the withdrawal symptoms came about.  That faithful Tuesday night will live in infamy in my mind.

I was extremely bored.

I never realized how reliant I was on technology. From keeping in touch with the people I love or just merely passing the time, I was completely at its mercy. I was tempted to just break the fast. In the first place, no one would know, right? I began to imagine how it was to be able to freely watch shows on the internet or on television and to be able to see where I was going—to be in the light again. And the cold drinks I would normally been able to drink: a cold glass of Nestea Iced Tea, a very cold tetra pack of Zesto manga or grape flavor, and avacado shake with as much ice, sugar and cream I would care to put in it… my mouth watered.

At the promise of the cool and refreshing drinks, I almost gave way. But something my father has always told me, “what you spend the most time with is your god,” at that moment really made me think. Believe it or not, while I was sitting in my dark and dreary living room, I had a “reima”, greek for “divine revelation”.  Technology was my god.

The past months flew by in my mind, as though I had a powerpoint presentation going on in there. I saw that, although I identified as a Christian, having been raised in a Christian home with two loving Christian pastor-parents, I haven’t been living the tenets of my faith. Yes, I read my Bible and prayed, but all that was done out of a sense of responsibility—not because I wanted to, but because I had to. I know all the doctrines and have been trained in apologetics (how to argue as a proponent of my faith) so I knew that what I had was nowhere near what the essence of Christian life required: A personal relationship with God.

As these thoughts came into mind, I began to pray. Not the memorized and structured prayer I often use, but rather a conversation between my God and I. Although I received no audible answer to my many queries, it felt uplifting. I felt, once again, connected. Not to the world or to anyone, but to a greater being, one that transcends all creation and yet, I regarded as my best friend.

Before I knew, it was 12:07 a.m. of Wednesday, July 7, 2010. That night, I slept well.

When I woke up, I felt more refreshed than ever. In fact, I felt so refreshed that I forgot to look at the time (or remember what day it was). I had a Physical Education class on 9 a.m. and it was already five minutes past eight. I was already terribly late. I’ve always had a saying, “Better absent than late”, and so I just took a day off and didn’t bother to get up from bed till about 10. I made brunch (breakfast and lunch) out of an omlette and scooted with a bounce in my step.

And before I knew it, I had six hours to go till my fast was over. Wednesday night came and went with me, in my apartment’s veranda, surrounded by candles, and reading a good book. I slept very soundly that night as there was a good breeze outside and the usual pests were curiously absent. Divine providence, may be. I was just thankful.

With a few hours to go, I felt this experience was something I needed. I’ve been so engrossed with everything happening aside from what hasn’t been happening in me. I never took the time to self-examine. As Littlefoot’s mother said in the Land Before Time, “Let your heart guide you. It whispers, so listen carefully,” we should all take time to re-examine our lives. If I, in all the sweat, tears, mosquito bites, burnt food and boring nights, found something I’ve lost, who knows what you may find if just you try.

[Pictures will come later]